Moscow Zoo

We saw the mass grave at the Moscow Zoo.
A sullen man dug up a human skull
Then held it high for journalists to view.
Forensic specialists arrived to cull
Remains and clues from this forgotten plot
On which the zoo still plans to cage a bear.
The experts guessed these prisoners were shot
For special reasons; no one was aware
Of comparable scenes at urban sites.
No one knew if these bones belonged to spies,
Suspected Jews or zealous Trotskyites,
But none of us displayed the least surprise
When bureaucrats emerged from quiet cars
To hint this might have been the work of czars.


Untamed Daughter

“…come, Kate, come, you must not look so sour.”

—The Taming of the Shrew

At fourteen she loves being critical
and tells me, “Shakespeare uses language well,
but could have been, like, more original…”
I sputter, but rebuttals fail to jell.
All those recycled plots make it appear
to her he was a sneaky plagiarist—
no better than that girl expelled last year—
so “they” should take him off her reading list.

Please, Caitlin, let it go; great writers borrow
like gamblers. Don’t begrudge the Bard a source
that he reshaped into Verona’s sorrow,
Miranda’s tenderness or Lear’s remorse,
but mark him down at least a point or two
because he tamed a Kate as fierce as you.

Appeared in The Formalist Vol 14 Issue 2 (2003)


A.M. Juster is the penname of Michael J. Astrue, an American lawyer, poet, editor, and critic. He served as Commissioner of the U.S. Social Security Administration from 2007 to 2013. Since fall 2018, he has served as Poetry Editor of First Things. His books include: Longing for Laura (Birch Brook Press, 2001); The Secret Language of Women (University of Evansville Press, 2003); The Satires of Horace (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); Tibullus’ Elegies (Oxford University Press, 2012); Saint Aldhelm’s Riddles (University of Toronto Press 2015), and others. He has won the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award three times, the Richard Wilbur Award, the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize and received other recognition, including two honorary degrees. 


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13 Responses

  1. Bruce Wren

    Excellent poetry, in both its technique and wit. I especially enjoyed “Untamed Daughter”

  2. James Sale

    Bruce is right: superb writing, great technique, and a wonderful wit and insight too. The Taming of the Daughter poem I really like a lot. Wonderful. Hope to see more of your work AM Juster!

  3. Joe Tessitore

    Good work!

    Love your rhymes (cars/czars) and especially love “he tamed a Kate as fierce as you.”

  4. Amy Foreman

    These poems are top-notch: percipient, incisive, masterful. A.M. Juster, welcome to the SCP! I look forward to reading more of your work.

  5. Alan Sugar

    Juster and Jester. Eloquent and clever. Gentle and compassionate too. What a wonderful father you must be!

  6. Charles Southerland

    Hi Mike–

    I remember Moscow Zoo from the Nemerov back some years ago. Nice work.

    I also like the falling meter of your dactyls in Untamed Daughter.

  7. dave whippman

    Two excellent poems. “Moscow Zoo” reminds me of some of Auden’s work; you are using classical forms to describe something very relevant and modern.

  8. Lew Icarus Bede

    Although I am not a proponent of sonnet writing at the moment, as I have indulged in them far too frequently in the past; nor do I, like the Neoclassicists, believe that the iambic pentametre correlates to the ancient dactyllic hexametre—at all; still, as for sonnets, Mr. Juster’s “Moscow Zoo” is an excellent one, despite its overrunning lines.

    What makes it good are the purity of its language, its finely-tuned meter, the thoughtful depictions and analysis, and the quietness of the alliteration (as the m’s in the opening two lines) and rhymes. Although I do not like the first line of the sestet, what makes it valuable to the poem is how it feeds in to the poem’s tone, one of detachment, which Mr. Whippman suggests is Audenesque; for I sense, that, like Mr. Southerland, Mr. Juster is striving for a certain kind of “classicism”.

    I also liked the tightness of the octave in “Untamed Daughter”. That Mr. Juster can write decent sonnets has not been lost on me for some time. My sonnet of the previous decade, in response to Wordsworth’s Scorn Not the Sonnet of the early 19th century, included his name, inter alia, as a pun in L8, which can be located in last year’s essay of Lew Icarus Bede, that Mr. Mantyk entitled “A Thirty-One Sonnet Primer”, which it was not.

  9. Lew Icarus Bede

    Though he may not have Mr. Burch’s satirical bent, as an editor, Mr. Mantyk’s editing is superior to Mr. Burch’s editing in many ways: ekphrastic’lly, his speedy responses, his openness to greatness, his zeal for both lighter and finer verse, and his seriousness of purpose, to name just a few of those qualities.

    I truly appreciate his willingness to put up with and tolerate my many arguments within the tradition of English literature, as well as my disagreements with the greatest of writers of all time from around the World.

    • James Sale

      Well put, Lew – spot-on! We need to treasure what Evan has created in the SCP; it is a unique publication and is performing an invaluable role in literature.

  10. David Watt

    There is nothing to compare with the SCP, and Evan’s editorship. Where else can we read and discuss skillful poetry such as these sonnets by A.M. Juster?

  11. David Hollywood

    Great poetry, and both of which handle/control irony and the twist of perceptions so well. Many thanks.


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